Can You Sleep In Your Car At A Rest Stop?


sign post to a rest stop

Road trips can be a fun way to discover new places and this is why those of us with adventurous bones in our bodies are always looking forward to the next one.

However, one of the biggest issues is where to sleep overnight when fatigue eventually creeps in after driving continuously for hours.

As you cross major highways and interstate roads, you’ll likely come across rest areas built to provide food, drinks, and bathrooms for travelers. It is only logical to wonder whether you can spend the night in your vehicle at one of these rest stops.

So, can you sleep in your car at a rest stop? The answer is yes. Sleeping in your car at a rest stop can be a great way to unwind and recharge for the next day. However, some state laws prohibit sleeping overnight while others may limit the number of hours you can stay from 2-12 hours. Conducting the necessary research ahead of time can help you to stay within the law.

The good news is that more often than not, State troopers will leave you alone to sleep in the car overnight even in states where the practice is illegal as long as you stay within the confines of the vehicle and avoid pitching tents or other camping gear.

Safety Precautions For Sleeping in a Rest Stop

Finding a rest stop after driving continuously for hours can be a welcome relief. This may be especially true at night when hunger and fatigue sets in after being on the road for many hours straight.

However, there are vital precautions to take to ensure safety whether you’re traveling alone or have some company. Here are a few smart precautionary measures to observe when sleeping in your car at a rest stop.

1. No Camping 

4 camping tents set in the woods

Laying low is the rule of the game whenever you’re forced to spend the night in a car at a rest stop. Sure, you may love camping but setting up a tent for cooking or drinking parties is a big no-no.

Most state laws explicitly have “no camping” rules that can get you into trouble should they be flouted. Instead, stay in the car at all times, kick back the front seat or back seat depending on the size of the vehicle, and get some rest.

Hopefully, you’ll be recharged enough to continue the journey in the next couple of hours even if a state trooper appears from nowhere and orders you to move on.

Have you read the article we wrote on Sleeping On A Camping Cot? Click the link to check out some insane benefits you can gain from choosing these cots for your next outdoor adventure.

2. Be Alert

You cannot afford to let your guard down when spending some time in the car at a rest stop. Regardless of whether it is daytime or night, always monitor the surroundings before parking and make sure all doors are safely locked at all times.

If you have to visit the bathroom or get out of the car for any reason, the importance of locking the doors swiftly cannot be overemphasized. Also, avoid wandering in the rest stop especially in the middle of the night even if you’re having sleep troubles.

You wouldn’t want to ruin the whole road trip experience by getting mugged in the middle of nowhere at night. Would you?

Additionally, staying alert can allow you to be helpful should another person at the rest stop become the victim of a crime. In some cases, you may even be able to step in physically to deter these criminals or call the police in real-time.

3. Park in a Bright-lit Area 

Darkness can offer the perfect opportunity for criminals to operate and this is why it is important to always park the vehicle in a brightly-lit area.

Sure, you can always lock up the car when parked in darkness but criminals are always coming up with sophisticated ways to break into car locking systems. But parking in areas with bright and conspicuous lights may ward off carjackers and other petty criminals. 

This can also help you blend in effortlessly with others staying at the rest stop and avoid drawing unnecessary attention especially in states where overnight parking is frowned upon. 

Remember, people can be quite paranoid at these rest stops especially if you engage in anything that seems out of character. Parking your vehicle under bright lights can prevent others from suspecting you of being a shady character.

4. Seek Help

Shying away from seeking help can put your safety at risk when staying overnight at a rest stop. If you notice any shady characters around, do not hesitate to alert state troopers to their presence.

This could be what it takes to save life and property, especially when road tripping through areas with high crime rates.

Besides, if you become the unexpected victim of a crime such as mugging or robbery, call 911 immediately. Even if you lose access to your phone for instance and cannot call the police, seek help from Rest Stop Employees as soon as possible.

5. Do Not Leave Any Valuables on Display 

Leaving valuable items on display while sleeping in your car at a rest stop may be one of the biggest mistakes any traveler can make. This may end up putting a target on your back if there are criminals in proximity.

From expensive jewelry to cash as well as electronic gadgets such as laptops, iPads, and Smartphones, there are a ton of things criminals may find attractive. Even when you’re wide awake, displaying signs of opulence may not end well for you. 

Hiding these valuables in the most unsuspecting spots in the vehicle can promote safety in most cases.

Advantages of Staying at Rest Stops

Staying in a car at a rest stop overnight comes with several advantages. No wonder it has become such a popular option among road trippers and those who live in RVs, Campers, and other Motorhomes.

Here are a few reasons why you should consider sleeping in your car the next time you suit up for a road trip.  

1. Convenience

Rest stops can be a convenient option when sleepiness is beginning to set in after being at the wheel for a straight 12 hours or more. When you’re in the middle of nowhere with the next motel several miles away, parking at the nearest rest stop can be the most convenient option to spend the night.

Rest stops may also be a great opportunity to rest for a few hours, refill your gas, and get something to eat even if you have no intention of sleeping in the car for the night.

2. Cheap 

Many of us take road trips on tight budgets that may not leave room for any indulgences. With the price of even the cheapest motels rising by the day, spending the nights in such “luxurious” accommodations may be strictly out of the question.

Sleeping overnight or even napping in a car at a rest stop for a few hours can be a cheaper alternative. Sure, you’ll probably need to spend some cash on food and other refreshments. But you can still save considerable amounts compared to booking a hotel or motel.

3. Well-Deserved Rest 

couple resting in a car

Driving when sleep-deprived can be a recipe for disaster. People who operate vehicles for several hours at a time without getting enough sleep may face an increased risk of car crashes. According to the CDC, up to 6,000 fatal crashes are caused by drivers sleeping at the wheel each year.

Camping in your car at a rest stop for the night can offer a well-deserved rest for those who have been driving hundreds of miles continuously. This can improve alertness levels when you finally get back on the road and minimize the risk of accidents.

Have you seen the article we wrote on Sleeping vs Resting? Click the link to find out 5 differences between the two related mental states.

4. Shower Facilities 

Rest stops typically offer shower facilities that can come in handy after a long day of driving across multiple state lines. Benefits of taking a shower at a rest stop may include:

  • Cooling down the body temperature
  • Enhancing the feeling of freshness 
  • Maintaining your regular sleep routine
  • Keeping the skin clear and healthy 

Disadvantages

Hitting the sack in your car at a rest stop does not come without negatives. Here are a few disadvantages associated with the practice.

1. Shady Characters

If you’ve ever spent time in a rest stop, you’ll know that shady characters may not be too far away. From junkies to biker gang members as well as others involved in one type of crime or another, these characters can scare you to death.

If you have any valuables in the car, the presence of such shady people can increase the chances of getting robbed.

2. Rest Stops May Feel Unsafe 

The atmosphere in rest stops may feel unsafe. While the majority of these stops may be brightly-lit, there can be some dark ones too. If you happen to land in a rest stop with all the nice parking spots taken by other travelers, you may be forced to park in a dark and deserted area.

This can spike up anxiety levels which may keep you awake throughout the night. Even if nothing untoward happens, the spiked up anxiety levels can force you to count sheep all night.

3. Poor Air Circulation 

The air circulation can be extremely poor when you sleep in your car. This may lead to breathing difficulties and the inability to nod off.

Unfortunately, rolling down the car’s windows when sleeping or opening doors to allow fresh air in can be a huge security risk. In the summer, when even night temperatures can be unforgivably high, sleeping in your car can be extremely uncomfortable.

The extreme heat can lead to night sweats and severe discomfort that can rob anyone of the ability to nod off peacefully.

Do you know why fans improve sleep? Check out the article we wrote titled: Why Do Fans Help You Sleep? We reveal the reasons why you’ll never sleep without a fan again.

4. Cold 

SUV moving on snow

Are you road-tripping during the winter? If yes, sleeping in a car can be extremely uncomfortable. Even if the car has heating, leaving the engine running throughout the night may be unrealistic because it can lead to an increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Sure, wrapping multiple blankets around the body can help but that may not be enough when temperatures are in the lower 30s or worse.

Alternatives for Overnight Sleeping in A Car During Road Trips 

There are several alternatives for overnight sleeping in a car while traveling on the road. If there are no rest stops in proximity or you’re in a state that does not allow overnight sleeping, here are few viable options that can allow Roadtrippers to rest in their cars overnight without problems.

1. Welcome Centers

“Welcome Centers” are specialized information hubs for travelers who cross state lines. These centers are designed to provide the right direction for travelers who may bee seeking details about tourist spots and other interesting attractions in a particular state.

Welcome Information Centers can also serve as rest areas for motorists who may be tired after traveling for hours. A vital benefit of these places is that they provide parking spots where anyone can sleep in their cars overnight.

The good news is that many states in North America have Welcome Centers at the main ports of entry such as major highways and interstates. These centers are usually secluded and can offer opportunities for camping out of the car.

However, the downside is that accessing a bathroom facility may be impossible if you arrive at a time when the Center is closed. You’ll have to wait until the morning when they open again to take a shower.

2. Walmart 

Walmart parking lots are a popular option among Roadtrippers who may need a spot to park their vehicles and spend the night. Several Walmart stores operate 24/7 so finding one to park the car overnight shouldn’t be a problem.

The trick is to try to blend in with other shoppers when you arrive at a Walmart car park and avoid any actions that can draw attention to yourself. Fortunately, these stores offer bathrooms for customers so you can always walk in when nature calls. 

Remember, a Walmart parking spot is not the place to set up a camping tent for cooking or sleeping. As long as you remain quietly in the car, the probability of somebody disturbing your sleep should be minimal.

3. Casinos 

cars in front of a casino

Are you traveling through Las Vegas or Atlantic City? Casinos can offer comfortable parking for sleeping overnight. These businesses operate 24/7 so finding a spot at night should not be a problem.

Sure, there may be security cameras at these parking spots with officers monitoring them constantly. But as long as you stay in the car and avoid drawing needless attention, enjoying the night should not be a problem.

4. Public Lands

Do you prefer overnight camping during road trips? The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offers lands which can be taken up for camping anywhere from 14-30 days.

These lands are available to campers at absolutely no cost with the only condition being that you pick up after yourself before leaving. Whether you’re staying in a Recreational Vehicle, prefer to pitch up a tent, or would rather lie down on a sleeping bag, there are endless camping opportunities on these public lands.

The BLM also has developed campgrounds where users can get access to toilet facilities, garbage cans, picnic areas, and electrical hookups. However, be aware that these developed campgrounds are not available for free and you’ll be required to pay for a permit to use one.

A quick search on the BLM website can reveal available lands for camping in your current location.

5. Street Parking

Sometimes, you may find yourself in a spot where none of the options above are available. In that case, there may be no alternative than to park on the street and rest for the night.

If you decide to go down that route, avoid parking on major highways and interstate roads where you’re more likely to be found by state troopers.

Remember, it may be illegal to sleep in your vehicle in the majority of US states so you should always choose roads that are less conspicuous.

Conclusion

Sleeping in your car at a rest stop can be an affordable way to unwind after a hard day of work. If you cannot afford a hotel or the nearest one is several miles away, rest stops can offer some reprieve to reduce fatigue.

Even if you have no intention of spending the night, a few hours of napping can restore energy levels to help Roadtrippers continue their journeys.

 

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